After a pretty sl;eepless night as the train rattled its way across India, we all awoke at 6.30 ready for arrival at Allahabad. All pretty groggy and mucky. A different feel to the town, still streets lined with lives lived at the roadside, but less squalid somehow. Qucik visit to Nefru's house - an ecclectic assortment of relics and roms as lived in by Nehru and family and Gandhi a frequent visitor. Peaceful. Then onto the bus for long trip to the side of the Ganges where our boats waiting. Stopped at small village on way for a chai. A real welcome - most of the village surrounded the satll and simled and looked on. The local schoolteacher led the conservation. Tea in small clay bowls which are then discarded. Enthusiastic farewells - real hospitality, with no expectation of money, touting.
We reach the Ganges and the 4 boats which will take us to Varanasi over the next 2 days - 3 for passengersand 1 cooking boat. We climb aboard for 2 days of perfect relaxation, transported down this amazing river. All sorts of bird life, village life on teh river banks, cremations, children shouting and waving. Five hours later as darkness falls we begin to wander where we are to spend the night, when we pull over to a huge sandback on the side of the river. As the full moon rises, camp is set up, fires lit (we find out later that the fuel came from the cremation pyre back along the river) and a 3 course meal produced (including chips to everyone's delight). A good night's sleep in spite of the ongoing chorus of bullfrogs and awake at 6.30 to refreshing cup of chai on a very misty morning. Great breakfast - porridge, cornflakes with hot mild, toast and jam, then we pack up and back into our boats for the morning row to Varanasi. We take off into the fog, hoping our boatmen know where we are going. It si damp and chilly, barely able to make out the nearest bank.
The fog begins to lift and we discover all boats are close together after all. A chai stop on the river is very welcome. The sun comes out and we are rowed on, enjoying the warmth, the birdlife, the activity on the banks and on the water. We drift across a stretch where river dolphins are to be seen but catch only the merest glimpse. Lunch is taken on the river. Eventually we disembark at the ghat of a small town near Varanasi and struggle up steep steps with backpacks. Off to the hotel, minutes from the river - so close that no meat or alcohol can be served as the river is so holy. Free to just wander most of time here. It's a huge city, but lots of Western tourists and many well-settled by the looks of them. There is little of the hassle of other cities and a no is quickly accepted. Amazing bookshops along the ghats. Taken to silk cooperative in the evening - the traffic chaos here is even more pronounced than elsewhere if that is possible. We are lead through maze of incredibly narrow lanes in the Muslim quarter. The looms fill the small looms but the end product is beaur\tiful. A power cut makes the short journey to the shop a major undertaking, but worth it. Wish had bought silk bedspread tho!
Street outside the hotel really noisy and don't expect to sleep, but crash out immediately.